Source: The Human Spark: "Becoming Us"
Major funding for The Human Spark is provided by the National Science Foundation, and by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. Additional funding is provided by the John Templeton Foundation, the Cheryl and Philip Milstein Family, and The Winston Foundation.
ALAN ALDA This is what I don’t get. The people who moved out of Africa, and who we came to call the Neanderthals, who got here and didn’t change much from the time they got here until they died out, although that was a long period of time. They survived, but they didn’t change. They came from the same people that we came from, and at some point we started changing.
RANDALL WHITE That’s true.
ALAN ALDA We started being able to change. And then we went up, we came up here, and these two groups meet. Why did, having come from the same background, why were we able to change, and they weren’t?
RANDALL WHITE I like to think of it as two completely different approaches to dealing with change. Neanderthals, in my opinion, had a very generalized technology that allowed them to, that worked, whether it was cold, whether it was warm, whether it was mammoths, whether it was horses. It’s a generalized adaptive approach. The same tools worked for everything. What happens with modern humans is that, and this may well be hallmark even of today’s modern humans, is that all of the solutions are technological. Every time the climate changes, the solution becomes to invent some new way of dealing with it.
ALAN ALDA But isn’t it your sense that what made us able to outlast or to supersede the Neanderthals was a social change, not a technological change, was this ability to organize ourselves socially that they didn’t have.
RANDALL WHITE Yeah, I know. I think the social part of it is very important, but I don’t think you can separate society from technology. I think the fact that you have innovations that spread quickly, that you have information flow between groups is a very social kind of phenomenon. Some people think that it may be just as simple as a matter of population numbers, that Neanderthals were really small, lived in small groups, isolated one from the other, and that the lines of communication weren’t open, so that when something new was, they glommed onto something new, it didn’t spread like wildfire. But you really get the impression with moderns that once somebody invents something, everybody knows about it.
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